Earlier in the year I had grand plans of reading a whole host of books. I made multiple trips to Foyle's et al purchasing bags of books at a time with every intention of reading them at break-neck speed... Let's just say work commitments and a deep desire to sleep in on Saturdays meant many a good intention fell by the wayside.  However, a few did make it past my initial cover-judging lust.  These are my top picks of debut novels for your delectation.

If you only read one book this year please make it Matthew Griffin's Hide.  A queer love story that is so poignant and raw like nothing I've ever read.  Griffin writes about love in a way that is so visceral and real - he picks up where many traditional love stories end: where the couple commit to one another and the hard work kicks in.  Hide is the story of former veteran Frank who meets taxidermist Wendell when he returns to his North Carolina home from fighting in World War II. The two fall in love in secret - a secret they maintain for the duration of their fifty year relationship.  Frank falls ill at the start of the novel. Hide consequently tackles the ugly side of love - the sacrifices this couple have made to be together, the struggles they face only having each other for company and the heartbreak that unfolds when Frank's body and mind become frail and Wendell's spirit has to pick up the slack.

The Outrun chronicles the real-life story of author Amy Liptrot's battle with alcohol and her subsequent road to recovery which leads her back to her childhood home - her parent's farm on Orkney.  This book was recommended to me by a colleague after a work trip called for a brief visit to the islands.  Liptrot's writing is honest and engaging and her vivid description of the excesses of London living highlight the ease with which a good time can spill over into the grip of an addiction.  She's eloquent and brings the reader home with her to the farm with vivid descriptions of the natural world that feels so far away from her frenetic London life.  This is a book for anyone who's ever turned their back on home to chase the highs city living promises.  I definitely resonated with Liptrot's sense of 'otherness' - her desire to be away from the familiarity of home but her desperation for its solace when life in the big smoke feels a bit too much.  

Sally Rooney's Conversations with Friends, is a smooth read, well-suited to daily commutes on sardine-packed trains. Although it's an easy read - I gobbled it up in 40 minute bursts to and from the office over the course of about a week - the writing is no less clever than in much-lauded classics. Rooney seems to create a world which draws you in so effortlessly, however much you may try to resist. None of the characters are totally likeable - protagonist Frances finds herself in a morally questionable predicament and yet, in spite of myself, there were times I rooted for her, whether I ought to have done or not. The ending left me a little hollow but on reflection could never have been anything else. A brilliant debut with signs of such promise - I'm looking forward to her follow up.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers is a story for anyone who has ever felt the pain of unpreventable loss. At first glance it seems clumsy and senseless yet is instantly relatable as the narrator explores what it means to live on when the person you love - in this instance, his wife - is suddenly gone. Awkwardly detailing rushes of uncontrollable emotion - waves of sadness, rage and desolation wash over his family, now all at sea. Out of the blue the onomatopoeic squawking of a crow roots our narrator as he and his two young sons wade their way through the grieving process. A strange and swift read defined by an unlikely Nanny MacPhee character - the crow who threatens to stick around til the wound left by the mother's departure has healed - this book left me breathless and floored as the author manages to express the horror of grief more aptly than I am doing here. This nuanced debut is best appreciated again, some time later.

I hope there will be many more opportunities to get lost in stories as the year goes on. Which authors are you most excited by lately? Leave me your recommendations in the comments below and let's grow our reading lists together.

As ever, keep wondering,


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